What's so great about genealogy?

AnceStory NI is a place for me to take my love of genealogy, research, and storytelling and bring it to life for you. But you may be wondering, how in the world does one fall in love with genealogy. Isn’t it kind of…you know…boring?

Spending hours pouring over microfiche doesn’t exactly sound sexy.

Why do I care about genealogy?

I like to think of genealogy research as a treasure hunt. It’s like I’m Mikey Walsh, and I’m leading an expedition to find One-Eyed Willy's long lost pirate treasure.

Warner Bros

Warner Bros

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. But the metaphor of a treasure hunt does work. I enjoy the search that leads you from one document to another as you piece them together to build profile of the person you are researching. Much like in The Goonies, you meet dead ends and “booby traps,” in the form of unreliable source materials or unexplained name changes, throughout your research.

Last year, I did research for a documentary on the restoration of Mount Stewart, an Irish Big house outside of Belfast. As I researched the family who had previously lived in and owned the house, I really got the chance to "get to know" them. I passed my days reading through diaries and searching through photo albums and landowners books. It was all consuming. After spending so much time searching reading about them, I felt like I was connected to these people who had lived more than a century before me. It’s an incredible amount of work, but once I follow all the clues, I am able to reach an understanding of the people I am researching, which is treasure enough for me.

What’s in it for you?

Obviously, a healthy portion of One-Eyed Willy’s treasure.

Or perhaps less dramatically, a story that you can feel connected to.

Genealogy allows you to work with puzzles that elicit that sort of connection. For me, the reward is the process itself. I love this work. Even better, doing family history research allows me to share that feeling of connectedness with others.

I’ve certainly worked with historians who have an attitude of disdain for family history, regarding it as unimportant in comparison to the “Big Picture.” But, family history has the ability to bring the “Big Picture” to life. For some, spending 20 minutes reading about an historical battle is something akin to torture. It’s another experience entirely to consider that same historical battle after perusing a series of letters connected with a soldiers will – especially when you discover that soldier is your great grandfather.

As ever with me, it comes down to stories like these. It’s not just about putting together the pieces to find a name. It’s about learning as much as you can about the story of those who came before you, feeling connected to them through that story. Perhaps if we look close enough, we might even learn something from them. 

Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many, men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone can learn something from you. It’s a reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.
— The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger